I found myself very much taken by the first episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. It got to me in a powerful way.
At first, I was complaining to myself at how yet another story is set in middle school with a lot of cute girls. What I didn’t expect is a rather sober and nuanced portrayal of childhood and family dynamics. In this show I found strong reminders of both my ideal childhood, and the one that reflected more on how I behaved. Perhaps I really just felt that I was a lot like Yuuki at his age, wide-eyed and excited about everything; and I was a lot like Mirai at her age, irritated and upset so easily at how ordinary my circumstances were, down to the resentment towards my parents and how I treated my youngest brother as some kind of nuisance.
Strong stuff for me here.
Mirai has the crippling predicament of identity politics in her middle school. The lack of external hostility (bullying) allows her to be sucked into introspection. This may be just as terrible. Her friends are wealthier than she is, and compared to her (of course she compares herself to them) they have life figured out. If the boredom of a Suzumiya Haruhi is about not finding what one strongly wants and expects out of life, the boredom Onozawa Mirai experiences is one of not even knowing what to want.
She asks her dad to take the family on a vacation, not because she really wants to go, but more like it’s the thing to do. It’s fueled by dread, as I imagine that the first week of school will be dominated by stories of her friends’ trips abroad. She doesn’t even want to compete with them. She just doesn’t want to stand out as the person who didn’t have the similar experience.
I too grew up with both parents working (and hardly making enough to put three sons through school), and can relate to the dysfunction (for lack of a better word) in the relationships in the Onazawa household. The father works, but seems rather irresponsible for completely forgetting about his wife’s birthday — something Mirai is guilty of herself. What struck me is how he took it out on her for being late to get home, just to tell her that the kids are hungry and there was no dinner yet (she was already preparing it at this point).
I suspect him of using the children as proxies for his own selfishness. He’s the one who wants dinner more than his kids do. Otherwise he has a casual relationship with them, and I also find it curious at how he discussed Mirai’s request for a summer trip: he abdicated the decision to his wife, but seemingly in consideration of how busy she is with her work. I like it that there are no easy conclusions to be made about these characters. In the short time they are given to distinguish themselves, they aren’t rendered as caricatures.
The mother herself is quite concentrated with her work, does not seem to complain at how no one quite remembers her birthday, and yet doesn’t quite fall into a martyr mother kind of character. What stands out is her rather ordinary relationship with Mirai. She insisted on seeing her report card. Like the dad, both of them seem to be ‘parenting by numbers;’ that is to say that they are fulfilling their accountabilities seemingly by rote.
And the mother does some parenting, delegating taking Yuuki to the robot exhibition in Odaiba to Mirai. Mirai resists this, and is resentful, and was hardly capable of having genuine fun at the event, almost ruining the fun for Yuuki. However, Yuuki is invincible. I mean, it is philosophically impossible for Yuuki to not have fun in a robot exhibition. More than just foreshadowing the involvement of disaster-relief robots, Chekov style (ALSO, TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 IS GOING TO BE THE MECHA ANIME THIS SEASON! YESSSSSS! Someone throws me a bone and I’m happy) the whole exhibiton sequence showed how Yuuki is the idealized childhood. I mean, that’s how I would be in a robot exhibition!
Through it all, Mirai suffered because of her passive resentment of her circumstances. She couldn’t have fun because she wouldn’t really try. To have fun there would be childish, god forbid. Everything that happens gets on her nerves, and I find myself drawn further into her character, remembering how I was at that age — with all that unjustified irritation.
I was so strung along by Mirai’s many complaints and listless passivity towards her first day of summer vacation that when the earthquake struck, I was actually surprised! I suddenly remembered that this was a disaster anime.
And then Mirai screams for Yuuki, who had to go to the toilet in the now crumbling building. In her scream I hear something beyond familial love for her one and only kid brother. I hear waves of regret, at not giving this time with him her best, her all. Fear too, fear at losing not only the brother, but the childhood that she was in such a hurry to throw away. It’s because part of her could very well know, that if she should survive and he doesn’t, she’d just get what she wished for: she won’t be a child ever again.